Do you remember that first boyfriend or girlfriend that you had? Like, EVER?
The one that you couldn’t go anywhere that you weren’t holding hands with? We would call each other up a few times a day – because that’s what boyfriends and girlfriends did. The most informal of meet ups counted as a date, and sent my heart a flutter. Most of our time was spent just plotting the next time we’d get together. There was fluttering, excitement, anticipation. And then, at least as I recall, the first kiss happened, you snuck out a few times at night, the movie theatre became no big deal and in a couple of months, the thrill of holding hands was gone. Months later, you realized (maybe while holding hands with your next boyfriend) that the burning “love” you thought you had for that first guy was nothing but a Bic lighter flame. The fluid had run out, and you didn’t even mind. In fact, you might have even been glad. (Because this new guy is a better hand holder, and throws rocks at the window at night for you to come down to meet him, instead of yelling and waking up your parents.)
Yesterday, as Derek and I crushed, zipped, twisted and bounced up to and along Buck Ridge in Yellowstone National Park on our bikes the thought occurred to me that that this same type of young-love-breakup had happened to me and running. And that riding in the wild dirt had taken its place in my heart.
At least I think so? There was a time when I was plotting my every run as I was actually running. I was curious on end about all the places my running shoes would take me, and there was fluttering, excitement, anticipation. About racing, about new shoes. How could I sneak out for another few miles? My relationship with running went far deeper than just the hand-holding, and I’m certain that my love for it was more passionate than just a Bic lighter flame. Or was it? Is it?
Losing the love of running has been a notion creeping up on me for almost a year; since I ran the Transrockies 6-Day Stage Race in Colorado just one year ago. I had wanted to run the race for as long as I could remember and when the chance arose, I couldn’t turn it down. I knew that it would be more beautiful, thrilling, and epic than anything I’d ever done before. I knew that I would have to dig deeply just to finish, that merely thinking about running (or writing it a love note) was not enough to get me through the 120 miles, and over 20k of elevation gain at high-altitude we would tackle on the route.
I was right; the race was by far the hardest challenge I’ve ever faced. I learned so much out there, primarily that I’d been searching for a long time for my line in the sand and had finally found it. Then, I crossed it into a place where I actually became comfortable being utterly uncomfortable. I spent those last couple of days on the course thinking; about racing, about competing, about my own competitive spirit; all paled in comparison to the sheer awe I found in the mountains that surrounded me. There was no finish line that could compare to the feeling of accomplishment at the end of the day when I had conquered those peaks. I finished the challenge strong, healthy, inspired to go bigger than ever in the wild and proud of my top 10 finish. Moreover, I was so glad to be done running.
It was nearly three weeks before I tied on my running shoes again, I was in Italy and craved moving after a long flight across the ocean and some horrible news. The break from running had been a reward, and -as I always have felt – that getting back into them would be another sort of reward, some sort of religious experience in fact, where I felt wild and free now that I only had to run into the Tuscan hills to get my blood pumping, and no further if I didn’t want. I didn’t feel wild or free; I felt tied down and weak. I tied on the shoes again in Portland last winter, when my bikes were packed and I was missing the feeling of my heart beating in my ears and out of my chest. After an hour on the road, or on the trail, my enthusiasm petered, my hips began to ache, and I was over it. But something in me craved that awe-inspiring environment that I’d peeked at during Transrockies.
The unending vistas yesterday snapped me back to those miles covered wildly, epically, in the Colorado Rockies. We pushed harder than we have ever on bikes, and the views, and feeling of being on top of the world was worth every heart-pumping climb. I could feel my legs feeding my soul desire to find my own breaking point in the wildest wilds. as we made our way over diverse terrain up to Buck Ridge; loamy soil, jagged rocks, dusty forest floor, and fields upon fields of wildflowers rolled beneath us. As we bombed down through the open meadows into the valley below, I realized that -through the wheels of my bicycle- every single surface felt different – I was completely and utterly connected to each rock and rut of that place now. But on those 6 days in Colorado ran on, that all of the terrain felt the same. It felt like the banging of tired bones against the unforgiving earth.
Back in Bozeman last night, over cowboy burgers and beer, our family couldn’t help but ask about the ride, the views, the experience. The tale of the day couldn’t help but inspire them to ask about my desire to race, about triathlon, and about what I might be training for lately. Without thinking much about it, I announced that I wasn’t training, I wasn’t racing, and I wasn’t sad about it. In fact, I was over the moon because it meant that I could go out and crush in the mountains for another couple of days before taking a whole week to rest and recover from the glee of hitting the bike as hard as possible here in Montana, without remorse or regret.
What I didn’t say is that I am heartbroken to have fallen out of love with my running shoes, and I don’t know quite what to do about it. I miss the feeling of free legs – that feels so much like free wheels – and the simplicity of knowing I could tie on my shoes and take on the world. Instead, these days I feel as if I should avoid running the same way that we resist relationships that poison our souls. Like that old boyfriend I don’t really want to see, but I know he’ll pop up at a party sometime. I wonder if there is something I did wrong to running, to myself, to make the love of running fade into my background, and I wonder if I’ll ever get it back in earnest. Unlike those first young-love breakups, I hope our relationship can mend someday.
Last year, when I finished Transrockies, I reported that I had no idea what big adventure was ahead. I still don’t know and its just recently that the spark in my eyes and in my heart has become interested in toeing starting lines again. Next year I have some ideas (what about BreckEpic? The Mongolia Bike Challenge! The Leadville 100?!) As a means of making peace, I’m scheduled to race the Golden Leaf Half Marathon in September – just for fun with a few girlfriends. The date on the calendar is almost like that highly-planned meeting with a long lost friend where you wonder if you’ll have anything to talk about. Or the mouring of a lost lover for whom your heart will always hold a place. How does one train for a race that’s all about curing heartbreak, instead of breaking away from the pack?